Time for Action to Help the Mighty, Important Menhaden

Nov 13, 2012 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

The most important species are not always the biggest, fastest, or most charismatic. The silvery Atlantic Menhaden usually averages only about 12 to 15 inches in length when it is full grown. But, it’s the massive size of a menhaden school which makes this the most valuable fish you’ve most likely never heard of. Menhaden are among the most important forage species along the Atlantic seaboard and a vital food source for dozens of other species.

For decades the menhaden harvest was among the highest catch in tons of any fishery in the nation, and gross overfishing was a strong concern among other fishermen who understand the menhaden’s valuable role as a forage fish. But this isn’t the first time that menhaden have been in the news or that efforts have been tried to establish a more sustainable fishing level. In a landmark move last year, East Coast fishery managers—responding to a plea for action by more than 90,000 people —committed to advancing new protections for Atlantic menhaden. Now is the time to make sure these plans become real improvements on the water.

Right now we need your help in sending the message that Menhaden need better management! Send a message before Nov. 16th!

Menhaden populations have plummeted 90 percent over the past 25 years and remain at an all-time low—just 10 percent of historic levels. Because these small fish are prey for larger animals, this decline threatens to disrupt coastal and marine food webs and affect the thousands of fishing, whale-watching, and bird-watching businesses that menhaden help support.

We need to leave more menhaden in the ocean to promote their recovery. There is no limit on the total amount of these fish that can be caught at sea. Every year, hundreds of millions of them are ground up to make fertilizer; fish meal for farm animals, pets, and aquaculture; and oil for dietary supplements.

On Dec. 14, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will make decisions that are critical to the recovery of Atlantic menhaden and the ocean wildlife that depends on them for food. Let the commission know that it’s time to bring the menhaden fishery into the 21st century.

Please take a few minutes to send a letter to the Atlantic States Fisheries Commission before Nov. 16th!

Or you can do the right thing by writing a letter to Dr. Louis Daniel, vice chair, Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission via the ASMFC staff and urge them to:

  • Set an enforceable catch limit;
  • Reduce the overall amount caught each year; and,
  • Follow-through on commitments to restore the menhaden population.

Thank You for your help – now pass it along to your friends!

Atlantic Menhaden are small but vital for a healthy ocean ecosystem

One Response to “Time for Action to Help the Mighty, Important Menhaden”

  1. Bill Bartlett

    “Menhaden – The Most Important Fish In The Sea.” That is the title of a book written by H. Bruce Franklin. What does that title mean? Why are these fish so important? One reason is because they are the favorite food of many fish, mammals and birds. Most people aren’t familiar with this fish because they don’t eat it directly and you can’t catch them with a hook and line, but they are famous for providing fish oil named omega 3 oil. Many of us take omega 3 supplements. The animals that eat menhaden also benefit from the omega 3 oils just as we do.
    But omega 3 oil is not produced by any animal. It is a plant-derived oil. In the case of the menhaden, they get the oil from eating algae (phytoplankton), which are microscopic plants that grow in the water. They also eat zooplankton, which are also microscopic animals that also feed on phytoplankton.
    Here is where it really gets important. Many of the fish that we like to eat rely on menhaden or other filter feeding fish for their food. They can’t eat algae. If menhaden fish disappear, so will other species that rely on them. Even now as the menhaden population is about 8% of historical highs, the predator fish are eating other fish; even eating the young of each others fish. When you are hungry enough you will eat what you can get. We know that fish are eating crabs.

    All that fish do is eat, swim and reproduce. We don’t need for the fish to go running all over looking for food as they do now. We need the menhaden back at high levels so that the predator fish can store fat and receive omega 3 oils for healthier fish. There are other fish that have the same role as the menhaden: blueback herring, alewives, American shad and the hickory shad. But the story is the same. All of these fish are in trouble due to overfishing, habitat loss and pollution.
    We need to stop the carnage of these fish being done by one company: Omega Protein based in Reedville, Virginia.
    The politicians that accept money from Omega Protein should be ashamed of themselves for accepting a few dollars and a few votes to the detriment of the Chesapeake Bay. Those people who have positions to help bring back the menhaden should be ashamed because they don’t have the courage to do the right thing because they fear for their position. Those people in positions where they should have the knowledge and understandings of the importance of these fish but don’t should also be ashamed. They should know that the more menhaden we have the more fish and birds we would have. And they will be healthier without sores.
    We don’t need computer models or any type systems to gauge how the menhaden are doing. If you have lived a few decades and have been around the Chesapeake Bay or its tributaries then you know how many menhaden there used to be here. When you look now you see very few schools.
    It has been wonderful to see how the interest in these fish has grown over the years. I commend all those who have been working to bring the menhaden back. We can hope now that those making the decisions regarding the menhaden will see that these are ‘The Most Important Fish In The Sea.”
    Bill Bartlett